I was born outside the country my mother was born. Will this forever mean, that despite being born in England, this country is not truly mine? Diaspora, “the dispersion or spread of any people from their original homeland”.
I found myself mixing my clothes and music as a teenager bringing a perfect fit for fusion. At times I wanted to go away from identity but, the more I ran away the more it chased me. And now my identity as a British Sikh Panjabi defines my life.
I last studied English literature at the age of 16 for my GCSE’s. I was never good at spelling and grammar but, I still managed to scrap a grade B. I never imagined that one-day poetry will shape my existence. For me at first, poetry was just my emotions.
I thought it was just a way to express myself, a way to just talk about my emotions and feelings. The older I got the more I realised, there is so much more to poetry – that poetry isn’t just emotion it is a way of living. Poetry is a way to tell your history.
I enjoyed reading poetry especially Sufi poetry written by Rumi and Hafiz I read these two poets so much during the age of 17.
One day I was listening to a Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan’s qwwaali.
It was a Panjabi qwaali “maye ni maye mere geetan de naina vich birhan di radak pawe…”
I instantly searched for the writer, of this qwwaali and I came across the poetry of Shiv Kumar Batlavi. And I realised how beautiful Panjabi poetry truly is. The Panjabi poet Shiv Kumar Batalvi, along with Amrita Pritam changed my life. I lost and found myself while reading their beautiful poetry.
(Shiv Kumar Batlavi)
But this wasn’t enough, I did not know how to read them in the actual Panjabi script – Gurmukhi, so I decided that I wanted to learn how to read and write Gurmukhi.
I spent the summer before starting university, learning how to read and write (and I am still in the process of improving). During this time I started reading a lot more Gurbani, the words of my Beloved Gurus and I realised how diluted translations are. Translations never give the real and raw feeling of what is written originally. Perhaps that is why they are called translations. As they can never hold the true essence of its original version.
Reading poetry in Panjabi gives my rooh – my soul a feeling which I cannot quite describe. I find words that touch me like they were made for me and me only. Which is why I decided to write in Panjabi.
Some say to me but you’re born in England, so isn’t English your mother tongue but for me, my mother tongue is my mother’s tongue.
I fear that my generation, living away from Panjab and the generations to come will forget the beauty of our language.
I fear they will forget this is the language that Waris Shah choose over Urdu. I fear they will forget this the language of our Gurus.
I fear that they will forget the need to know Panjabi.
Which is why even though I write in English at times I write about my mother tongue, Panjabi.
I’m grateful for my mother, for telling me stories while putting me to sleep. The love tales of Sohni – Mahiwal to Heer – Ranjha to the Usdasis of Guru Nanak Dev Ji. Which now make way to my poetry.
(painting of Heer and Ranjha)
I love reading. And the more I read about my history, the more I realise I know nothing. The effects of 1947 and 1984 are still very much fresh, with questions unsolved.
I asked my Nanaji, about partition about two years ago and the way he described partition, the loss of his mother once again (he lost his biological mother at the age of 2) while crying, made me want to dive deeper into the brutal history of partition and colonisation.
(map of Panjab pre-partition)
I started writing a lot about Panjab in both English and Panjabi. As through my poetry, I wanted to send reminders of the beautiful past Panjab had united, how it was the land that started poetry, how it was so rich in history. Before it was divided but the horrors of the partition cannot be ignored. Partition caused a division of hearts and over thousands died. Women were affected brutality. Panjab is still crying and Kashmir is still bleeding.
I visited Panjab in the summer of 2017 and I realised many of the youth, even in Panjab are going away from their roots. The high statistics of drug and female foeticide in Panjab also cannot be ignored yet it is.
And now I can’t stop writing about the effects of colonisation because it still affects us today. The way how society thinks.
How brown skin is not liked. How once India was once the land of sexual Gods, the land where the Kamasutra was written, the land that was called sohne ki chidiya today is one of the countries with the highest rape statics with many parts full of poverty.
After the horrific gang rape of Jyoti Singh in 2012, it made me truly question – is this world, ever going to be a world for women.
From reading the Ramayana and the Mahabharata it made this question arise so much. And one day I looked at my mother, my grandmother and their eyes held so many stories, stories unknown. But these unknown stories are the stories of so many women. I use my poetry as a way of telling stories a way of voicing what is not heard or is often ignored. From what so many women experience. What I saw in society from the ends of Handsworth to Panjab makes way to the ink of my pen.
Of course, my own experiences shape my poetry. Someone once told me until your heart doesn’t break you can’t become a poet.
Yes, I’ve had my heart broken many times and perhaps that is why I feel everything so deeply. But this doesn’t necessarily mean getting your heart broken by a lover. Your heart can be broken in ways aside from love, such as society, injustices, family and friends. For me, like most poets, everything I experience and what I see around me shapes my writing.
This poem below, ” Who am I” explores the theme of my identity.
Who am I?
I am the winds of Lahore
that my Nanaji brought
across the border of Wagah
I am the soil of Amritsar
where my father was born
I am mixed with the air coming from Delhi
where my mother was born
Who am I?
is a question I am yet to solve
I am divided into names and culture
I sit oceans away from Panjab
yet I write about Panjab
I am somewhat British
yet more Panjabi
I write in English
wishing I wrote more in Panjabi…
– Rupinder Kaur
“Khuda kise de hath vich kalam den toh phela ohnu sach likhan di taufik devi”
said by Amrita Pritam which roughly translates to –
God before placing in someone’s hand a pen give them the ability to write the truth”
I can’t thank God, Allah, Ram, Waheguru, Satnaam enough, without the blessings of God I am no one.